Thea Harrison’s Moonshadow series weaves old English tales of magic and myth into her established world of shifters and Fae. In her new story, Spellbinder ,she blends legend and the paranormal together to tell the tragic story of Morgan le Fae, a sorcerer and kingmaker sentenced into a life of servitude to a petty and cruel queen.
To many of the Elder Races, Morgan le Fae is a feared enforcer for Queen Isabeau of the Light Fae Court. Leader of her Hounds and the most Powerful sorcerer ever born, Morgan has used his abilities to destroy lives and virtually cut off the Dark Fae demesne from the rest of the world. Sadly, Morgan was once revered as a noble wizard who advised a legendary king within the realm of Avalon; however that was destroyed when Queen Isabeau trapped him under a geas (a magical obligation or prohibition forced upon a person) and forced him to serve her.
Living hundreds of years under the control of a selfish queen has left Morgan bitter at his fate and desperate to break the bonds that hold him. His opportunity to temporarily escape Isabeau’s control comes when he appears before her wounded from a recent battle with the Dark Fae. Already angry at his losing to her enemies, Isabeau orders Morgan out of her sight until he’s healed, not realizing that the geas will keep him away until he is healthy. Morgan understands immediately that he’s been granted a reprieve from his confinement so long as he doesn’t hear a countering order from Isabeau. He leaves Avalon and hides out in London to recuperate and search for a way to break the geas. While there, Morgan tries to keep a low profile but finds himself drawn to a concert advertised in the hotel where he’s staying. The music Sidonie Martel plays is incredibly moving and stirs both painful and beautiful memories for Morgan, enough so that for the first time in centuries he feels something other than hate.
Sidonie is a violin virtuoso with a style that fuses classical pieces with contemporary arrangements. The performances in England have been her most successful but the strain of touring has made Sidonie eager for a break before her next show in Paris. While on route to Heathrow Airport her car is involved in a crash that knocks Sidonie unconscious and when she wakes up the she is abducted by a shape-shifter who apologizes for kidnapping her but will not release her. He claims that she will be the means to destroy the power of the Light Fae court; however Sidonie has no magic and is afraid that the creature has captured the wrong woman. Sidonie is transported to Avalon and presented to Queen Isabeau as if she were an object and the queen’s disregard for her welfare pushes Sidonie to her limit. When her demeanor towards the queen is less than reverential,l Isabeau orders Sidonie thrown in the dungeon but cruelly demands that all of her fingers be broken in order to teach her humility.
Sidonie’s anguish at seeing her life destroyed along with her hands is relieved when she wakes up in her prison a day later with both hands miraculously healed. Her happiness turns to fear when she realizes that another person is in her cell with her, but the man’s whispered words calm her. Without giving his name, her benefactor promises that he’ll take care of her but he cannot help her escape from her cell. Confused and alone, Sidonie has no choice but to believe the mysterious man has good intentions.
Hidden by the darkness of the cell, Morgan can be himself for perhaps the first time in centuries. Once he learned that Sidonie had been kidnapped, a long dormant part of his soul reawakened and he knew he had to save her. The geas prevents him from directly helping her to escape, but through their conversations in the dark he can hint at ways she can help herself. The bond that forms between them is intoxicating for Morgan and the more time they spend together the harder it is for him to hide in the shadows. Sidonie’s trust and affection for him is a fragile thing that Morgan knows will be destroyed when she learns of the evil he’s done in the past.
Spellbinder could have been a tricky sell to readers of the Elder Races and its spin-off books. When I read the story description for this book I was confused as to why Ms. Harrison would pick Morgan as a leading man since she’d done a fairly good job of making everyone wary of him. Yet she turns him into a romantic hero, humanizing him and showing that he was just as enraged at his behavior as others were, but was unable to show it. We get to know a man who has given up on living and basically goes through the motions because he’s compelled to do so through a magic stronger than his own. The first cracks we see in his façade of indifference come as he watches Sidonie perform for the first time and he describes the experience as painful. Years of pent up remorse and frustration affect him as deeply as the new feelings of joy and exuberance brought out through her music. Discovering she’s been taken to Isabeau’s court against her will, Morgan knows that her life must be saved at any cost even at the expense of his own.
There’s an homage to Cupid and Psyche in how Sidonie gets to know Morgan and learns to love a man she cannot see. What Sidonie lacks in magic she makes up for in her intelligence. Understanding that Morgan’s ability to help her is limited, Sidonie is constantly looking for opportunities to change her circumstances and quickly works out that feeding Isabeau’s vanity is the quickest way to gain acceptance. She’s obsessive over minute details and that focus helps her to see avenues that could save Morgan from the hell to which he’s been consigned by Isabeau’s magic. Despite his own warnings against it, Sidonie’s unwavering trust in Morgan becomes the catalyst for his redemption.
The twists and turns Spellbinder takes to save both Morgan and Sidonie from Queen Isabeau’s clutches kept me biting my nails up until the end. Their relationship seems doomed because of the bonds that hold Morgan to another woman, yet everything he and Sidonie experience together ties them more tightly than any spell or chain ever could. A final choice made out of love is an incredibly romantic gesture that caps their story perfectly and makes this a book that I highly recommend.